Switzerland was well-known for its charming little towns, and Rheinfelden was certainly one of them. Positioned on the southern bank of the Rhein River just a short drive from Basel, I found Rheinfelden to be a peaceful, beautiful town that I will never forget.
My visit to Rheinfelden was a bit of a lark. I was driving on one of the Swiss autobahns between Basel and Zurich and simply pulled off on a whim. I had heard of the town, but little specifically beyond the fact that one of Switzerland's large breweries -- Feldschlossen -- operated there. I think what made me decide to pull off was seeing the massive brewery from the highway. I actually went to the brewery first before going downtown. It was a massive red and yellow brick structure that looked like a fortress. Impressive, but not very exciting since it was shut down for the weekend.
I arrived downtown and went directly to the main street, about half of which was shown in the first photograph. I loved the shuttered look of the residences perched over the shops on this street. It was hot outside, so a number of the eiscafes (ice cream parlors) pulled out umbrellas to shelter their patrons from the sun. The red tower in the distance was part of the Rheinfelden town hall. To the tower's left were the town offices in a white house with gray shutters and a golden clock on top.
There was another district referred to as the 'old city', and it had some fantastically old structures. One example was the Johannisritcapelle (second photograph), a 12th century chapel that has clearly been kept up but never remodeled. Its asymmetry and slightly tilted appearance certainly cemented its authenticity. The rest of the old city was elevated, with a maze of very narrow cobblestone streets cutting through crumbling gray concrete and brick buildings. It was very picturesque. Much of the old city wall and several of the towers remained, including a gray tower on the inland side toward the old city and a painted white tower at the opposite side.
After my first pass of the downtown, I moved to the Rhein River. While the city was built right up to the bank (see the fourth photograph below), only a short distance eastward civilization gave way to a large park with a playground and fairground. On the day I went, there was a large picnic with about 500 people in attendance, and the air was filled with the smell of grilled bratwurst. Further on, there was nothing but a walking path along the bank, which was elevated some six to ten feet above the water. What was interesting was the presence of fisherman's shanties at regular intervals on this path. An example of such a shanty (though not located on the same path) is shown in the third photograph -- a simple wooden hut with long poles protruding over the water. The ones on the path were enclosed with locked patios, and it appeared that these were owned by people who lived in very large manors across the path inland. I followed the path all the way to a massive hydroelectric plant that employed the fast-moving rivers of the Rhein. Having reached a metal walking bridge going across the river, I turned around and went back to the city.
Rheinfelden had a small old stone bridge that crossed the river to a namesake town in Germany. I suspected these two towns were probably once one town, but the Swiss immigration officer solitarily required to check everyone coming across the bridge made it clear that people were entering a different country. By the way, the third and fourth photographs were taken from that stone bridge. In the center was an impressive World War II monument.
It was getting towards mid-afternoon, and I decided to get in one more pass of the downtown before heading on. That time, I went to a more modernized part of the city that contained some marvelous houses. In among them were a couple small squares, one of which had a rather bizarre attraction. It was a goat clock, shown in the fifth photograph. Every fifteen minutes, the bells at left would ring. But on the hour, the bells would play a full tune, and the goat would traverse the little wall from one end to the other according to the number of the hour (it was three o'clock, so it made three passes). Apparently, there is a mechanism by which the goat turns around, as I have a picture of it facing and moving the opposite direction. I also discovered that cutting through the downtown was a small canal and a park that followed both sides of it. I don't know how this was done, but the canal was fashioned into rapids.
As I indicated before, going to Rheinfelden was a lark. Nine times out of ten, I would have just kept going. But, it reinforced a pattern I would learn about Switzerland. While her larger cities were indeed impressive, it was her small towns that had all the charm, including those that few might ever have heard of.
Trip Taken 20 May 2001 -- Last Updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2001 Tom Galvin